A photo of the first pitch ever thrown at PNC Park hangs on a wall in the press box. Pirates pitcher Todd Ritchie threw to catcher Jason Kendall with future Hall of Famer Barry Larkin, of the Reds, at the plate.
That was more than 12 years ago, April 9, 2001. It remains one of the more memorable games in the history of the stadium, if only because it was the first.
Larkin struck out in that first at-bat, but the Reds won 8-2 that day and the Pirates lost 100 games that season. Many years of misery preceded 2001 for Pirates fans, and many years of misery followed.
That history adds to the drama at 8:07 tonight as the Reds return to PNC Park for the National League wild card playoff game, the first postseason game at the stadium and the first postseason game for the Pirates since 1992. It’s the 18th postseason game between the Reds and Pirates and the first since the 1990 NL Championship Series.
Pittsburgh held a rally for the Pirates in Market Square downtown on Monday. More than 2,000 fans showed up to cheer on a team they need more than ever — the Steelers, after all, are 0-4.
“I’m looking forward to (Tuesday) because this is significant for our city,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. “This is significant for our fan base. This is part of what I envisioned when I signed up for it. To see that rally this afternoon, to see the people out with the Jolly Roger flag, that’ll all play into tomorrow night’s game, but the beauty of it is once the game starts, you’re in a game again, and all that other stuff gets put wherever it needs to be put.”
The Pirates swept the Reds at Great American Ball Park over the weekend to clinch the home-field advantage in this one-game playoff. Pittsburgh won the season series 11-8.
“I don’t think there’s ever a time in pro sports that you don’t win and you walk away with something,” Hurdle said. “How much that something plays out tomorrow night, I can’t quantify because truthfully nothing matters what happened over the weekend. Really the last 162 don’t matter either, for either team.”